Legends and myths are often responsible for building a cultural identity that is not written but that is transmitted orally and, as such, is in constant evolution.
In Portugal the Camino de Santiago (St James’s Way) is a central axis of reading and knowledge of the territory and the identity of the communities in the most diverse registers, with legends, stories, churches, convents, monasteries, fountains, cruises and the authenticity of the places that have become accustomed to live with pilgrims.
The legend of the Barcelos rooster is one of those oral traditions that has managed to go a long way, since it materialised and associated itself with a beautiful piece of traditional figurine from Barcelos – the Rooster, a symbol that today represents Portugal in the world .
This legend is associated with the medieval cruise that is found in the Paço dos Condes de Barcelos and tells us that the inhabitants of the town were alarmed by a crime and, even more, by the fact that the criminal who had committed it was not discovered.
One day a Galician appeared who became suspicious. The authorities decided to arrest him and despite his oaths of innocence, no one believed that the Galician was going to Santiago de Compostela, and that he was a devotee of Santiago. So he was sentenced to hang.
Before he was hanged, he asked to be taken to the presence of the judge who had condemned him. Granted the authorisation, they took him to the residence of the judge who, at that moment, was feasting with some friends. The Galician returned to affirm his innocence and, in the face of the incredulity of those present, pointed to a roast rooster that was on the table, exclaiming: “It is so certain that I am innocent, how certain it is that rooster crows when they hang me”. Laughter and comments started, but, anyway, no one touched the rooster.
What seemed impossible, however, became reality! When the pilgrim was being hanged, the rooster rose on the table and sang. At that time the judge no longer doubted the convict’s innocence claims. He ran to the gallows and saw the poor man with the rope around his neck. However, the feeble knot prevented strangulation. Immediately released, he was sent in peace. After a few years, he returned to Barcelos and raised the monument in praise of Santiago and the Virgin.
A legend then old, but that the rooster was not always a symbol of that country. So, when and why did the Barcelos rooster become a national symbol?
It was António Ferro who hoisted the Rooster, the work of artisans from Barcelos, to the status of national symbol.
In 1931, at the V International Congress of Dramatic, Musical and Literary Criticism, which took place in Lisbon, the Barcelos rooster made its first international appearance. The person responsible was Antonio Ferro, then a journalist and figure in the national literary medium, who later became known as the head of Salazar’s propaganda. And the thing caught on, to the point that there was no Portuguese house, that it did not have the rooster, with a red crest and many showy colours. Ferro’s idea was inscribed in the image of the country that he helped to build, rural and folk, “poor but happy”.
What is certain is that the Barcelos Rooster has resisted the time and the advent of Democracy and thus remains a source of inspiration for artists from all over the country.